The guitar, by Federico García Lorca

I have written about the difficulty of translating poetry elsewhere; I have been struggling with this well known poem of García Lorca seemingly forever. Last night, just as I was drifting off to sleep (of course!), it all came together. It is not a faithful, verbatim translation, but it is what I think works.  Here it is, first in the original Spanish, then my translation.  See what you think:

La guitarra

Empieza el llanto
de la guitarra.
Se rompen las copas
de la madrugada.
Empieza el llanto
de la guitarra.
Es inútil
callarla.
Es imposible
callarla.
Llora monótona
como llora el agua,
como llora el viento
sobre la nevada.
Es imposible
callarla.
Llora por cosas
lejanas.
Arena del Sur caliente
que pide camelias blancas.
Llora flecha sin blanco,
la tarde sin mañana,
y el primer pájaro muerto
sobre la rama.
¡Oh guitarra!
Corazón malherido
por cinco espadas.

The guitar

Suddenly, the guitar
And the cups of dawn lie shattered.
Suddenly, the guitar,
Useless to silence,
Impossible to silence,
Weeping relentlessly,
Like water,
Like snow-bound wind,
Impossible to silence.
It weeps for distant things,
Sands of the searing south
Begging for white camellias.
It weeps for the arrow with no target,
The evening with no tomorrow,
And the first dead bird of winter.
Oh, guitar!
These five swords
Are piercing your heart!

11 thoughts on “The guitar, by Federico García Lorca

  1. Well done, Mikels! By your placing the Spanish version, I was doubly able to appreciate what a difficult poem you had taken on. I also understood better your recent blog about translations of The Odyssey. This Lorca piece could have infinite variations, and each one would sound as unique as the poet, as unique as a guitar in the hands of one who plays.

    Congrats on the epiphany! Those, too, are worth their weight in gold.

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